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The Best Simulation Toolbox: Integrated Suite or Granular Apps

March 27th 2013

by Chad Jackson, President and Principal Analyst of Lifecycle Insights


Everyone likes a good debate, right?

Well, as a co-host for the web show Tech4PD, I have to admit that I am a little biased. The idea behind the web show is that Jim Brown, another Industry Analyst, and I debate various topics about technology that enables product development. Viewer's votes determine who wins. The loser has to fulfil a consequence. Last month, Jim did a 35 degree polar bear swim. Earlier, I had to shave my head. In the second episode, Jim had to brush his teeth with wasabi.

Regardless,he and I have debated integrated suites versus granular solutions time and again on the show. And I was thinking, the topic strongly applies to simulation. Perhaps more so than any other area.

Given that, I wanted to get your feedback. Should simulation analysts mainly use integrated suites or granular solutions to setup, run and review their simulations? Before we jump into that debate, however, let's look at some of the past episodes for precedence.

Setting Precedence: PDM and PLM?

In the very first episode, Jim argued:

If data and processes aren't in sync and thought through together, your data won't support your processes and your processes won't support your data. They need to be looked at and architected together.

I took the other side:

Core product development data and processes don't have to be integrated. It takes far too much effort to get all of your data under control and managed, then getyour processes under control, and then figure out how they are all connected.

Do these arguments apply to pre-processors, solvers and post-processors? I don't think so. These arguments might apply to Simulation Process and Data Management(SPDM), but I think that's another debate that we can definitely explore later.

Setting Precedence: CAD and 3D Apps?

In this latest episode, I argue:

Granular CAD applications enable many roles in the enterprise, expanding the use of the 3D asset company-wide. Granular apps are better at enabling individual roles.

Does this argument apply to simulation? Absolutely. I think. Hear me out. Simulation has now expanded to cover many different disciplines that rely on many different methods (finite element, boundary element, etc.) that simply can't be abstracted out of the simulation tool. Furthermore, if your company is trying to get casual users to successfully utilize simulation, then they need an easier to use interface. My point being that one app doesn't fit all cases with simulation. You need several different granular right sized apps for these different cases.

Jim counters with:

Integrated CAD suites leverage common data and avoid data loss, errors and recreation of designs. Integrated suites will provide more value to design teams.

Does this apply? Well, there are different artifacts that are generated during the process of conducting a simulation. You have the simplified and abstracted design model, the mesh model, the loads and constraints and the solved results. 

The validity of this argument, from my perspective, depends on the openness of these simulation artifacts. If they can be opened, interrogated and manipulated by many applications, then there isn't an issue. However, in reality, that isn't always the case.

Other Arguments to Consider

Before you weigh in with comments, there are a few more aspects of this issue to consider, most notably:

  • Multi-physics Simulations: These simulationsdon't just sequentially dump results from one into another. Many are solved ina coupled fashion. I simply don't see a way this could feasibly be done withgranular solutions. An integrated suite would have to be used in thiscase. 

  • Specialty Simulations: Let's also be realistic:commercially available software doesn't cover every simulation required. Many organizations have that ugly little homegrown simulation tool in the corner that they simply can't kick out the door. There's simply no current alternative to it.

  • Ready for Anything: Sometimes, I think analyst groups are like Emergency Medical Services (EMS). They're usually called in when there is a dire emergency and a solution is needed pronto. Some part broke and the customer is raving mad. A system failed and a customer can't ship products. This makes many an organization want fail-safes in terms of simulation software. They keep every simulation tool under the sun.

Summary and Conclusions

Alright. Ready to debate? I want to hear it.

But before you lay it all out, think about this: what tools does your simulation team keep in their toolbox? Are all of them integrated simulation suites? Are they a mishmash of granular solutions? Or are they some combination of the two?

Sound off. This is going to be fun.

Take care. Talk soon. Thanks for reading.